Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Fitting” into the Big Tent: The Role of “Fit” and Moving Between Library Types, by Becky Yoose


Library workers perform and specialize in similar core duties throughout different types of libraries: aiding patrons with their inquiries, organizing information, maintaining and preserving physical and electronic collections, providing services and programs, and so on . One would assume that, provided that the worker can perform the duties, the worker can work in a variety of library types in their career, including academic, public, special, and school libraries.

I am a firm believer of Andy Woodworth’s Big Tent Librarianship philosophy. No matter what type of library or information environment we work in, we all share a common core of beliefs and skills that we can use to benefit all library and information organizations. Outside of the common core, we all stand to learn from each other in terms of challenges faced by each organization type. Cross pollination is a sign of a thriving environment.

And yet the reality is much more... quirky.

When I applied for an IT manager position at The Seattle Public Library, I was concerned that my lack of public library experience would negate all the other qualifications and experience I gained in my many years in academic libraries. Why? A sizeable portion of that concern results from the well documented bias in hiring committees surrounding “fit”. Like tends to seek out like, which makes it harder for those who want to transition from one organization type to another. You’ve probably experienced this roadblock if, for example, you are a public library worker applying for an academic library position, and vice versa. The “fit” roadblock extends to within organization types, creating another level of frustration for workers. Community college transitioning to a four year research university, rural or small public library transitioning to an urban or large public library - if you haven’t experienced the difficulty for yourself, you probably know someone who did.

In short, you have your work cut out for you.

What can you, as an applicant who wants to make the transition, do to better your chances?

    Research. Obvious first step is obvious. If you come charging into a hiring process saying “I can do x, y, and z!” without any knowledge as to how x, y, and z would fit into the new environment, then you’re no better off than the applicant that hands in a generic cover letter and resume. If your mind glazes over when looking at the hiring library’s information, here are some starter questions:
     Which populations do they serve (along with major demographic factors)?
     What are their popular/prominent collections, services, classes, and programs?
     What is their strategic goal/mission and how does that fit in current operations?
    Create the crosswalk. Now that you have a sense of the hiring organization, your focus now is to see how you can take your current skills and knowledge and convince the hiring organization that those skills can benefit them. Organizing programs and classes in one type of library can transfer over to another: securing event space, working with organizations/individuals outside the library, marketing, and volunteer wrangling are some common threads in program/class organization. Organizing and managing information can be crosswalked as well, including tools and standards.
    Be prepared to answer “Why?”. Indeed, during my interviews with SPL, the question came up - “Why are you wanting to work in a public library when you’ve worked in academic libraries?” You will get this question on multiple occasions during the interview process. Spend time reflecting on this question before the interview process - if you need a starting place for your reflection, look at the hiring organization’s mission statement or the community they serve and work from there. The most important thing, in the end, is to be honest in your answer.

With some crosswalking of skills, additional research, and a concise answer to the inevitable question of “Why?” (and probably a good amount of luck), I managed to successfully make the transition from academic to public libraries.  Again, I could have done all those things and still not made the transition due to hiring committee factors, and you might find yourself in the same place. Many hiring committees are still unaware of the “fit” roadblock that they made for applicants in the hiring process. Because of this, the burden shifts to the applicant (you!) to prove that your skills are valuable and applicable to the organization, no matter which part of the Big Tent you worked in the past to gain those skills. It’s more work on your end, but until we see a more systematic way of addressing bias in library hiring processes, it’s what we have at the moment. Nevertheless, there is room to move under the Big Tent - go forth and explore all the corners of the Tent!

(“But wait,” you might say before going off to explore, “what can be done in hiring committees to address the roadblock? And how do I make sure I don’t fall into that same trap when I get onto a hiring committee?” Stay tuned for part two which focuses on the hiring committee part of the process!)

Becky Yoose is the Library Systems and Applications Manager at The Seattle Public Library. She tweets at @yo_bj.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What To Ask When You’re Given a New Project, by Zoe Fisher


Interview questions commonly begin with, “Tell me about a time when you…” In your answer, interviewers expect you to cite specific examples—such as projects completed, programs led, and classes taught. But when you’re a new professional or a current graduate student, how do you sniff out the best projects? How can you tell when you’re being given an initiative that will grow your career, or a task that will just pass the time? The following questions should be considered whenever you are charged with a new endeavor. If you can’t answer these questions at the time of assignment, be sure to ask your supervisor or the person leading the project. They should be able to answer these questions—and, in the best work environments, they will graciously invite your feedback and comments for improvement.

What are the expected outcomes for this project or program? How will you know that I’ve done well?
As with any project, you should feel confident that you know what is expected of you. If possible, ask to see examples of what’s worked in the past. Do your best to get a sense of what “successful” looks like in this situation. Maybe it’s weeding 10% of the fiction collection, increasing interactions with patrons from last year’s baseline, or organizing and scanning the mysterious contents of a recently retired colleague’s file drawer. Every task, no matter how big or small, should have a desired outcome, and the person assigning the task should care that the work is done well.

How does this project or program relate to our goals (as a department, library, etc.)?
If you’re in a new role, this question should help you get a sense of how your individual work aligns with your department and the library at large. What is the role of your department, and how does it work within the library? What is the library doing to improve and grow? With that in mind, how does your project help the library meet its goals? You want to know that your work matters to the organization, and the connection between your task and bigger goals should be clear.

What’s at stake in this project? What would be the impact if this project didn’t happen?
If you’re being asked to do several things at once, this answer can help you prioritize. In most cases, a project with low stakes can be put on the back burner in favor of projects that have an immediate impact on your coworkers, your patrons, and library operations. But don’t let a project with seemingly low stakes get you down—sometimes it can be difficult to see the big impact of a project until it’s finished.

What do I already know that I’ll be able to use in this project? Is there anything new that I need to learn or find out?
This is a good time to clarify what resources are needed in order to do this project. Do you need to call or e-mail someone you’ve never met? Use new software? Access files or materials you haven’t used before? Hopefully there are some new things to learn in this project—that’s the fun part!

If you can’t get answers to these questions, or you’re not comfortable with the answers you receive, proceed with caution. The project might still be a good opportunity, but you will need to do the extra legwork of figuring out what you need to do and why you were tasked with this in the first place.  Keep these questions in mind as you work--remembering what you achieved and why it mattered will help you immensely the next time you’re asked to talk about your contributions to your library.

Zoe Fisher is an Assistant Professor, Pedagogy & Assessment Librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. As an information literacy instruction librarian, she is very concerned with outcomes. She blogs at and tweets at @zoh_zoh.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Six Years of Letters

Can you believe I've been writing this blog for six years now? SIX YEARS? Every time my bloggiversary comes around, it startles me to think about the time I've invested in shaking my fist at the world. And, yes, I still think of this blog as me yelling into the void about things that are important to me.

Anyway, for this anniversary - beyond my giveaway contest (details below) - I thought I'd share a list of some of my favorite things I've written here. These are posts that I think really hit the mark on what I was trying to say.

So now it's time for the contest. This year all you have to do is tell me which LtaYL post is your favorite (so long as it's not something you wrote). You can comment here or on Twitter or Tumblr, just make sure if it's not here that you tag me in some way. Also make sure I know how to get in touch with you. You'll win a $50 donation to the book-based charity of your choice and a book for you of my choice (to be determined once I pick a random winner). The deadline for submissions is June 12, 11:59, Eastern Daylight Time.

And, as always, thank you so much for continuing to read my rants. I'd probably write this blog anyway without an audience, but having one makes it more fun.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Just for Fun: Copper and Cut Grass

I am firmly and completely head-over-heels in love with the October Daye books by Seanan McGuire. Some of why I love these books are tied to spoiler-y, things such as characters who I 'shipped early on getting together later in the series, but worry not if you haven't read these books yet because I've decided to make this spoiler free.

  • These are urban fairy mysteries. Urban fey stories mashed up with great mystery stories. The main character, Toby Daye, is a private investigator and she's also a changeling - half fairy and half human. Prior to the series, she worked for humans, but during the series she works exclusively within the local fairy population.
  • No rape, at all, not even as a plot point. Yes, there's murder - that's kind of the point of most mystery series - but no rape is a nice reassuring thing as I read books.
  • The world building is immersive and consistent and amazing. The stories are mostly set in and around San Francisco, both in the fairy worlds that touch on that part of California and in the human parts. The way magic works is consistent and the geography feels real.
  • This is a minor spoiler, but it's for something that comes up in the first book fairly early on so it's not going to ruin the books - I love the rose goblin Spike. He's an animate rose bush that is shaped loosely like a cat and that also acts like a cat. Love love love him.
  • I've mostly listened to these books, and the narrator for the series thus far - Mary Robinette Kowal - is absolutely perfect for the material.
And as proof of how much I love this series, let me submit the following two pieces of proof:
  • I named my home wifi network "Tamed Lightning" which is also the name of one of the counties in the books.
  • I wear this t-shirt on a regular basis:

So how about you? Have you read these books? What do you love about them? If you haven't read them, have I convinced you to give them a try?